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Anglican bishops back South governors, warn open grazing will cause food shortage

By Odita Sunday (Abuja) and Agosi Todo (Calabar)
18 October 2021   |   4:25 am
The Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, has commended Southern governors for enacting a law against open grazing, while it accused the Federal Government of not being sincere in tackling insecurity.

[FILES] A Hausa-Fulani boy stands while his cattle is grazing near some farms in the outskirts of Sokoto, Sokoto State, Nigeria, on April 22, 2019 (Photo by Luis TATO / AFP)

• Ex-servicemen, experts urge police to enforce anti-open grazing law
• We’re not violent herders, killers, Fulani Christians cry out

The Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, has commended Southern governors for enacting a law against open grazing, while it accused the Federal Government of not being sincere in tackling insecurity.

Bishop of the Diocese of Calabar, Rt. Rev. Nneoyi Egbe, stated this at the weekend in a Presidential address delivered at the First Session of the 11th Synod with the theme: ‘Go Forward’ held at the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity in Calabar, Cross River State.

Egbe, who doubles as the Dean of the Cathedral, said the action was a welcome development that would help in preserving the natural heritage of the states as well as reduce incessant killings and destruction of property.

He said: “We implore the Southern governors to uphold and defend the territories they swore allegiance to protect.”

On insecurity, the Bishops accused the Federal Government of not being sincere, stating that so many lives have been lost because those concerned refused to take responsibility.

“Two things come to mind with the escalating insecurity challenge; one is that it appears the government has no idea what to do about the insecurity situation in the country. And secondly, is that insecurity appears to be a vehicle for establishing a secret agenda. If the leaders are honest and have no hidden agenda, let them show commitment to fight and end it.”

ALSO, Bishop of Ihiala Diocese of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Prof. Israel Okoye, has warned that the insistence of the Federal Government to support open grazing may lead to food shortage in Nigeria.

Okoye, a professor of Political Science in Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, before he ascended to the seat of the Bishop, stated this in a presidential charge he read during the second session of the fourth synod of the Diocese of Ihiala.

The former academic said the controversy about open grazing had become an unfortunate distraction from some fundamental issues on the economy, education, justice, equity, leadership and others that needed to be addressed.

While noting that though cattle rearing are key features of animal husbandry, he said “its politicisation and seeming treatment as national obligations have attracted objection and resentment. The assumption that the Constitution confers on cattle the right of movement along Nigerian roads and communities is untrue. Another erroneous stance is that cattle rearing is supported by the Federal Government, such that herders must be allowed to traverse any part of the country with their cattle as a guarantee for peace.

“Armed herders now migrate with their cattle to any place of their choice, occupy forests without the consent of the government in charge, to graze their cattle in people’s farms, where they kill, maim and rape women with impunity. The widely held feet-dragging of the Federal Government in arresting the fast-spreading dastardly acts of the armed Fulani herdsmen engendered ill feelings among the affected populations.”

Lamenting that the activities of the herdsmen have totally corrupted the image of the Fulani people, Okoye said if this continued, it would hinder Nigerian farmers from being productive and lead to food shortage.

“Today, farmers in many parts of Nigeria can no longer go to farm. If this continues, we run the risk of food shortage, which may lead to starvation.”

Speaking further, Okoye urged the electorate in Anambra State not to vote for any candidate with open grazing agenda in the November 6 governorship election in the state.

MEANWHILE, ex-servicemen, security experts and senior lawyers have urged the Nigeria Police Force high command to enforce states’ anti-grazing laws. One of them, a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, Taiwo Lakanu, said if the police fail to do its job, local enforcement institutions can be mandated to charge offenders to court while prosecution will be carried out by states’ Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) under the auspices of Ministries of Justice as being done by Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and Neighbourhood Watch in Lagos.

Lakanu said: “Police are bound to enforce any law enacted either by Federal or state governments, including edicts passed by local councils. There’s nothing like regional security outfits since there is no regional government.”

Four Southern states are yet to sign the anti-open grazing bill despite the September 1 deadline that was fixed for enactment of the law. Before the resolution of the Southern governors, the anti-open grazing law was already operational in Ekiti, Ebonyi, Abia, Oyo, and Bayelsa states.

Rivers and Ondo states joined the others in prohibiting open grazing on August 19 and 31 respectively. Enugu, Akwa-Ibom, Osun, Ogun, Delta and Lagos later enacted the law after the deadline.

In Anambra, the House of Assembly last week passed the bill into law, awaiting the governor’s assent.

Despite the resolution, Edo, Cross River and Imo states are somewhat reluctant about enacting the law. Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, has not sent the bill to the House of Assembly for consideration, while Ben Ayade, Cross River governor, has reportedly refused to sign a 2017 anti-grazing bill that was passed by the state’s lawmakers.

While speaking with journalists in August, Hope Uzodimma, Imo State governor, said the state had no law against open grazing. The governor said what the state does is to regulate grazing activities under a partnership between farmers and herders.

But Duru Johnson, spokesman of the state Assembly, countered Uzodinma, saying the state has a law against open grazing and it was assented to by Achike Udenwa, a former governor of the state.

Speaking on police readiness to enforce the anti-open grazing law, former Director-General of the Nigeria Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Prof. Epiphany Azinge (SAN), said: “Once a law is passed, be it at Federal or state level, the duty of enforcement lies with the law enforcement agencies of which the police is number one.

“It is not the prerogative of the police to determine which law to enforce and which not to enforce. The morality or acceptability of the law is not the business of the police. Where the police decide to politicise the circumstances of enforcement, other agencies are free to take over matters of enforcement of an extant law. Occasions like this seem to justify the cry for state policing—all pointing to a police that is not tied to the apron strings of Abuja.”

According former military officer and Managing Director of Strict Guard Security Ltd. Dr Bone Chinye Efoziem, “the refusal or unwilling attitude of police officers towards enforcement of the anti-open grazing laws in the Southern states is counter productive and undemocratic because it exposes the fact that the states and their laws are not recognised by them as a federal agency.

“However, the states can also create or use existing state or regional outfits for the enforcement through state established judicial apparatus such as mobile courts and their likes.”

Security expert and media executive, Dipo Kehinde, noted that the police have the constitutional power to prosecute, as well as the Attorney Generals of the states. “It has even been held that this power vested in the police is subject to the prosecutorial powers of the Attorney General of the states and that of the Federation. I think the Amotekun and other security outfits domiciled in the states have their jobs cut out for them.”

Founder of Security Watch Africa, Patrick Agbambu, however, faulted the Southern governors, saying they took action with sentiments.

According to him, “You can’t put the cart before the horse. They cannot be struggling to seek for enforcement and prosecution after they have enacted a law. They should have waited to straighten out knotty issues concerning open grazing. As it is now, that law is not enforceable whether it is desirable now or not.

“The governors can’t force the Nigeria Police Force to enforce the law because the authority for prosecution is still solely with the NPF. Dialogue and compromise should have been the foundation before sending the bills to their various Houses of Assembly.”

IN a related development, Fulani Christians have cried out over the notion by many Nigerians that the Fulani are associated with violent herders causing trouble with farmers across the country. The Christian Fulani, under the aegis of Fulani Christians Association of Nigeria (FULCAN), said it was wrong to stigmatise all Fulani as violent when such accusation has not been proved with empirical data.

For this reason, FULCAN has begun a massive mobilisation effort to correct the erroneous impression about them and to create a new image for themselves and the next generation of their people.

The body has also called on the Fulani race to step out and educate their children on the wrong notion being bandied against them and free themselves from the deep-seated and widespread stereotyping and stigmatisation.

As a first step towards correcting the wrong impression, FULCAN is engaging the Fulani in Cameroun, Chad, Central Africa, Niger, Ghana, Burkina-Faso, Gambia among other West African countries with a strong message that the time has come for all people irrespective of tribe and religion to embrace peace.

Chairman of the association, Rev. Buba Aliyu, said: “If you go back to history and the accounts in the Bible, you will discover that among those God manifested Himself to were herders. My greatest concern is that our Fulani people left education behind, saying that they want to herd, forgetting that today, the world has got to a point that you don’t even see bushes any longer because of population.

“That is why we as Fulani Christians are calling on the Fulani race to step out of what they are into and educate their children on how to know God. Any religion that says you should carry arms and go and kill your fellow brother does not know God. This is because this life you are taking belongs to God.”